Mormons and death: Giving the gift of life

Mormons and death: Giving the gift of life

When I first signed up to write this post, I had stories to tell. Specific stories about how tragedy in one family lead to a new dawn for another. How tearful prayers on one side were answered with great blessings, while the courageous actions on another made them possible. How congregations and communities were changed by an unknown family’s gift of life. So many terrifyingly beautiful stories of love.

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I might have liked Ptolemaic Egypt …

I might have liked Ptolemaic Egypt …

Cleopatra is a name that conjures up visions of a siren wearing elaborate gold headdresses, fine linen, and thick kohl eyeliner. Generally, I think of her as a boon to dark haired women at Halloween. However, I’ve been trying to read histories and biographies of women, so when I saw Cleopatra: A Life, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff, I snapped it up … at Costco for a

I enjoyed the book, although Schiff seems to interject a lot of conjecture into her writing. However, there were several things that really stirred my mind. Firstly, Schiff describes Ptolemaic Egypt as a place where a feminist would feel comfortable.

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Spiritual versus Religious

Spiritual versus Religious

This summer, at the inaugural conference of the Mormon Chapter of the Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy* held at USC, James Burklo**, Associate dean for Religious Life, posed the question: Are you spiritual or religious.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that simple. He related how, while welcoming the incoming freshmen, he had asked for a show of hands of students who felt they were religious. There were a few. Then he queried the group as to how many thought they were spiritual. There were more hands this time. There were even a few who wanted to change their initial response from religious to spiritual. At the time, I chalked it up to increasing levels of cynicism and distrust of organized religious related to ecclesiastical/physical abuses (and the depths went to hide them) that had been headlining the news. However, I’ve been thinking about it since then, and how it can be applied to the LDS church. Are we more spiritual or more religious?

College is generally a time when young minds are exposed to a more diverse array of knowledge than one has ever experienced, and, more often than not, away from the constraints of family culture and custom. College-age students explore not only their academic life, but also their emotional, physical, social, political and spiritual lives. I thought it telling that the students understood the implied difference between being spiritual and being religious.

When I contemplate what I would like to term religiosity, I think of the letter of the law. An emphasis on works. Routine. Ceremony. In terms of physiology, I think of religiosity as the skeleton, the bony structure which gives form and protection to the body. Remembering back to an institute class, I think of the phylacteries the Jews wore to keep the word of God present in their lives. One can religiously pay one’s tithing, attend church meetings, brush one’s teeth, and pluck one’s eyebrows.

The term spirituality brings a very different, if complementary, set of images to mind. I think of spirituality as the meaning of the law. Faith. The marrow in the bones, and the organs of the body. Having the scriptures inscribed in our hearts. Alternatively, the word also conjures of images of crystals, chanting, incense and meditation.

In an ideal world, we would all be both spiritual and religious. We would do all the important things that need doing, and do it with an understanding of how loved we (and everyone else on the earth, through all generations of time) are by our Heavenly Parents. But, we’re imperfect. Sometimes we forget to put the trash cans on the curb, or fall asleep before brushing our teeth. Sometimes we’re short-tempered with the checker at the supermarket, or cut someone off on the freeway.

Without the spiritual component, our religious services can become rote and cold. I particularly remember a fast and testimony meeting where a convert noted that sometimes church felt very corporate, and not in a good way. Conversely, without the religious component, our spiritual actions can become chaotic and disordered. I suspect that this dichotomy can be compared by the current US political climate. The spiritual (bleeding heart) liberals, and the religious (disciplinarian) conservatives. Basically, most of us are in the middle, leaning just a little to the right or left. There’s a lot of name-calling and blame-throwing, but we’re generally more alike than not.

So, where would you place yourself on the spiritual-religious continuum? Do you find comfort or constraint in ceremony? If you view yourself as more spiritual, what types of religious practices might you be more inclined to practice? Conversely, if you view yourself as more religious, how could you incorporate more spiritual practices?

* I was only able to attend one panel discussion: Challenges of Secularism and Religious Indifference, and really enjoyed the presentations by J. Burklo, K. Haglund and R. Hancock. However, if you are interested in reading more of what transpired, Lynnette over at Zelophehad’s Daughters reviewed some of the presentations here and here

** Burklo is not LDS. I think he is Unitarian, but I can’t state that with absolute confidence.

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Namaste

Namaste. A simple enough word. Three syllables. Short vowels. Before traveling in Nepal, it was just a word that everyone uttered at the end of yoga class. Now, it’s a whole new way to view the world around me, and my place in it.

In Nepal, everyone says it. Every day. All day long. It’s said at the same time as placing the hands palm together, fingers pointing up, either in front of the chest for a normal greeting, or in front of the forehead for additional respect. Toddlers, schoolchildren, young mothers, farmers, shopkeepers and village elders. They all say it, numerous times a day. What does it mean? The divine in me acknowledges the divine in you. One small word to elevate both the greeter and the greetee.

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Loving thy neighbors … as themselves

Loving thy neighbors … as themselves

Generally, I’m a likeable person. Or maybe I should say that I’m not a very dislikeable person. I tend to be thoughtful, quiet and respectful, and try for understanding and empathy over shouting my own opinions.

And, generally, I like most people. Except when I don’t. Mean people. People with overweening egos. People who don’t let me merge onto the freeway. People who are cruel. People who are hypocritical. People who don’t care what happens to the world around them, so long as they get their way. And people who take twenty minutes to bear their testimony … every month.

The problem is, I’m surrounded by these people. Sometimes I am these people. So, a while back, I decided that I needed to look a little deeper, search a little harder, and find things to like about people who I would normally dislike.

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